How She Learned To Fly

(06/11/2009) You hear light clicking of stiletto heels. Without a carpet on ceramic tile, the little airport terminal is loud.

Durell Godfrey, Photographer

Her perfumed frame is long and angular with blond hair loosely tied from off her neck. Her feet and head are all that you can see. A floor-length mink is covering her up.

Blue eyes, full lips, a singular bold chin that says hard-headed woman right up front. You’d think she’d take charge of most anything if confidence were not just her facade.

She’s deep and layered like a warm June sky. Who would not want to be with, talk with her? But as she saunters toward the private plane the only conversation she is in, is with the parrot on her shoulder bone.

The parrot’s name is Hero and he’s mad ’cause she adopted him reluctantly and he belonged to someone who just died, someone they both do love with all their hearts.

Her multicolored leather shoulder bag contains a paper bag that holds a flask. She notices that Hero blends in well and at the moment feels quite fond of him.

But no one knows what Hero will do next so when the muscular male airport cat runs straight across the floor in front of them, should she have guessed that Hero would shout out, “Here kitty kitty, here here kitty cat”?

The cat turns round and goes into a crouch. On Hero’s beak she quickly lays her hand. She tries to silence him before the pounce. The cat is wiggling hips from side to side. He’s warming up before his planned attack.

Unluckily for her, the parrot bites, offended that someone would muzzle him. Wide-eyed she stands immobile and in shock. The cat just saunters off without a care.

Some blood is dripping to the airport floor. She swabs her finger with her handkerchief then wipes the black and white ceramic tile. The St. Bernard embroidered on her cloth gets dirty red with one more wipe as does the brandy barrel worn around his neck.

As she cleans up the floor, she soon finds out that blood has splattered on a hearing aid, the type that rests behind the ear and has a mold that fits inside the ear canal. She takes the hearing aid to Lost and Found then briskly walks off toward the exit door.

She tells her charter pilot what she found. His name is Cayley and he turns to her, “Most folks don’t like to listen just talk talk.” The parrot parrots him and squawks, “Talk talk.”

At great expense Amanda booked this flight for business reasons. Now she finds herself with Hero and the man as they approach a sparkling plane that’s red and blue and white.

The pilot taps the outside fuselage. He taps three times most gently uttering, “Hey you tin can, you beautiful tin bird.” He taps as if he’s knocking on a door to ask if he can get on board the plane.

He sets his left foot first onto the wing and tells her to be careful of her heels. “Amanda is your name I think they said. Co-pilot’s seat is here if you would like. I’m Cayley,” he says as he puts on gloves.

He pats the photograph that’s in his shirt. He thinks his wife and children keep him safe. These rituals are part of who he is, a man who loves to fly, who lives to fly.

The engine sound is loud but Cayley speaks. He does his monologue each time he flies. He tells the passengers about the plane and how to operate the radio. Confused and nervous, passengers just smile as if they understand what Cayley said. The parrot in his cage is smiling, too.

A soft take-off and Cayley starts to sing about his world, the world of piloting, the connotations of – of bravery, adventure, and connection with the stars.

He smoothly rolls the airplane to the right. The wing with lowered aileron goes up, the wing with high raised aileron drops down. He points out haystacks in an open field, straw soldiers in a line in perfect form. He thinks how natural and how so right.

As if his heart were pushing him along, like engines on airplanes give thrust for flight, he feels a weight that’s beating him down hard, a force that seems to pull him back to earth. He sets the plane on auto-pilot fast.

Sir Isaac Newton comes into his mind. His heart is pumping out the motion laws, how objects move much faster when they’re pushed, how he’s been working 15-hour days.

He tears a glove off and his hand contracts. Control is gone and now his hand’s a claw. His body jerks and jolts and shakes until his seat becomes dislodged and he ends up unconscious in the back seat of the plane.

To no avail Amanda tries to help. She takes her coat and lays it over him. She feels herself collapsing, panting hard. Her heart is palpitating and she’s scared. Her trembling hands take out the paper bag. She breathes into the bag to stabilize. She counts each breath and then she starts to hum.

The plane begins to turn. She tilts her head to look at all the instruments above, then tilts her head straight down to look at charts. She feels she’s rolling, tumbling down a hill. She quietly moans “Help,” but no one’s there.

She watches fuel level going down. She watches cognac level going down. “I want my mother,” she begins to cry and call out to her mother who just died.

“I want my mother,” Hero echoes her then puffs up feathers like he’s feeling strong. He loudly parrots what the pilot said, announcing how to work the radio, “You press the button on the mike to talk.”

Amanda stares at him in disbelief but follows his directions word for word. The radio starts working, and she screams, “Help, help, we need your help!” And Hero shrieks, “Help help!” but only static comes their way.

No one responds. Amanda feels defeat. She cries out, “It’s no use, no use at all.”

But from the radio a Southern voice is heard, “Who is in charge there of the plane?”

Emotional Amanda speaks so fast, “How comforting that someone is out there because in here we have a parrot with clipped wings, a woman who is drunk, a pilot who is comatose.”

The old man says, “Your feelings, Ma’am, I truly understand but now the situation calls for something else, maybe a bit of reason, Ma’am. The pilot, can he offer any help?”

“The pilot can’t talk to himself much less to me.”

The old man patiently responds, “Well, if we have a plane without a pilot trained and certified, we’ll need some creativity.”

“Not me,” she quickly says.

“No one will bail you out, Ma’am, but yourself. You’re very near so you can circle round a couple times to get you used to it. They say you should not pilot any plane if you don’t have an interest in flight,” the old man calmly adds, “But my dear friend -”

“The only flying high that gives me thrill is flying high that comes out of a flask.”

“This is your day, you’re of the day not of the night. There is a time to sleep but now is not that time.” He adds, “The pilot must have coffee in his bag.”

“These knobs and stuff in front of me. . . . My hands are shaking so,” she mutters, pouring coffee for herself.

He lets her know what speed that she should go and where to find the various controls. “I’ll guide you down the runway,” he declares.

“Oh sure,” she argues as she freezes up.

“The way I see it, Ma’am, believe in me or you can be just bones. It’s in your interest and mine to get this plane on ground. We are in harmony.”

He teaches her but she falls short. She glances at her flask, “Give up on me, give up.”

“I never cast off anyone, I only try to help.”

Amanda looks down at the ground and sees a pointing crowd. She asks, “Those people, who are they?  What makes you think I won’t hit them?”

“I telephoned the hospital for help.”

Frustrated she exclaims, “My pilot here should take care of this plane without an effort on my part.”

The radio voice says, “You work real hard and you eat your own bread. You fly this plane and you save your own life. Rely on me. You can. I promise you,” he adds, “Now here we go, let’s take her down.”

The ambulance’s crew, the curious, and one newspaperman are on the ground, all watching her descend but then ascend. She circles back, descends again, but then she pulls up and she tries once more. The plane goes down the runway to a bouncing stop before a row of trees.

The old man says, “Congratulations, Captain, yes, well done.”

Amanda says, “I may be wobbly but I land on solid ground.”

“Sometimes you must descend in order to ascend,” he says. The radio goes click, “Over and out.”

“Wait, wait, don’t go,” she pleads while Hero squawks.

Now everyone comes rushing to the plane.

The pilot’s carried off, a stretcher under him. He’s groggy but he looks at them. “We think you had a grand mal seizure and she landed her with help from the old man. It seems the parrot was most helpful, too.” The siren blares, the ambulance is gone.

Amanda is so grateful for her life, she walks back to the fuselage then taps three times and says, “I love you dear tin bird.”

The young reporter runs until he catches her, exclaiming, “You forgot your coat.”

She throws the mink across her arm, says, “Thanks. Where is the man who taught me how to fly?”

“He’s helping someone somewhere else,” he adds, “You’ve made the news, would you give me a quote?”

“The only problem auto-pilot has, eventually you run out of fuel.” Walking by a wastebasket she tosses in her flask.

He asks, “Well, Hero, what’s your comment for today?”

“You save the plane, you save yourself,” he squawks, “You save yourself, you save the plane.”

An aircraft lands and drowns them out.